Mirror Moments

Have you ever looked at an image in a mirror and wondered, “Who is that, and where did that person come from? When did I get to look like that??!!??”

I had something of that experience recently. I was getting ready for work. Sitting at my vanity, reaching for something, my glance hit the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. When I moved my arms forward to reach for things, the skin on the lower part of my neck got wrinkly.

My glance then happened across my hands. While grabbing things, my skin was the smooth, even texture I had always seen. But when I just held them in a resting position or was using them in other ways, wrinkles appeared where none had been before.

Where had these come from? When had time done its inexorable march on my physical self to cause me to start to look so much older than the me inside feels??

Now, lest you think these thoughts are rooted in the mind of someone so selfish and vain all I care about is my image and appearance, allow me to correct that assumption. I wear makeup because as a business owner, it makes me appear more credible. I put it on as a necessary chore, not a pleasurable one. After years of searching, I finally have a hair style that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to look good in the morning. I wear coordinating clothes and jewelry because of my creative, artistic sense, not to be fashionable or to please anyone else (except my husband, who gave most of it to me!). I tend to wear the same necklace (my husband gave it to me for our latest anniversary) and the same bracelet (he gave it to me for Christmas last year) every day. In other words, my appearance is something I give about 1/2 an hour of my day to in the morning, and only scant attention to any other time. It’s an issue of practicality, not vanity.

So, why did the wrinkles bother me? Because when I saw them, I was instantly reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my grandmother. And I suddenly realized what an egotistical, self-centered jerk I had been, and how loving and gracious my grandmother had been.

I was no more than 8 or 10, and visiting their home in Syracuse, NY. I was there for the week with my older brother for Vacation Bible School, which we often did in the summer.

We were in Grandmother’s kitchen, and I was helping Grandmother and a friend of hers with some baking. At some point, I looked at their hands, compared them to my childish ones, and made some comment about the wrinkles on them. I then further compounded the immense insult by remarking about the wrinkles on their faces!

Grandmother and her friend could have rightly chosen to be offended. They could have chosen to become upset. They could have chosen to speak harshly to me. They chose none of it. They answered with love, kindly and graciously, simply saying these were signs they’d so far lived long and well, and someday I would understand.

There was something thing I realized as I reviewed that conversation in my memories. Looking at it now, from the adult’s perspective, Grandmother and her friend were likely around the same age I am now! At the time, they seemed immeasurably old. Now, at the same relative age, I look in the mirror and see someone still young looking back (except when I see wrinkles!). But I have a calendar awareness of the passage of time, as well as tangible proof like grandchildren, arthritis and gray hair (just ask my stylist).

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who could have 30, 50 or 100  years left to do all I want to accomplish in life. Okay, I admit it, 100 is pushing it! Or, I could be hit by a bus, get into an accident and my life would be over tomorrow. Don’t believe me? See When Life Turns Upside Down, in which I talk about life after a near-death experience last year. The point is, you never know.

I realized I needed to repent, and say I was sorry to God and the memory of Grandmother for being such an obnoxious, selfish and self-centered jerk of a kid. I know what you’re thinking. Kids have no filters. I certainly didn’t that day. But if time has taught me anything, it’s that a heartfelt “I am sorry” is never out of place when your conscience hits you with a guilty sting.

Finally, I realized as I reviewed that conversation the passage of time has done its work. I understand what Grandmother and her friend meant that day. I have tried to live well, for as long as I’ve had so far.

The Bible has a lot to say about aging and the experience and potential of wisdom that comes with age.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. Job 12:12

My absolute favorite on the topic, however, is this one:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:20

I know, you’re asking, “Number our days?!?!?? What does that mean??!??” It means more than that calendar awareness of time I was mentioning before. The ancient Greeks called that calendar awareness of time Chronos time. It’s the time of clocks and calendars, that we can understand, quantify and measure. What we need is an understanding that our lives, that we see as so long, so significant, so important to us, are really just blips and specks on the timeline of eternity. In other words, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. Kairos time is not something quantifiable, understandable or measurable because it’s eternal. It’s all that was before and all that is and all that will be, all in one package, all in one big picture. It’s God’s view of eternal time, as He Who was and is and ever will be.

When we get a Kairos view of time, when we learn to “number our days,” as the psalmist says, we understand our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s perspective. That sounds like it would be something to bring down our self-image and not give us wisdom, right? Well, God’s views are different. When we look at things the way He sees them, we look at ourselves and our lives through His plans, His purposes and, most importantly, His immense and overwhelming love for us. We see our faults, our failings, our flaws and yes, even our wrinkles, in the light of what He has taken us through, and where He is taking us to.

One of LIFE Leadership co-founder Chris Brady‘s favorite quotes is by noted author Henry David Thoreau:

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

In our lives of Chronos busy-ness, getting a Kairos view of things from time to time gives us a perspective to understand what we need to be busy about. Day to day living can smother purpose, gobble up passions and devour dreams in the minutiae of things that just have to get done. An eternal view from time to time realigns our perspective, sharpens our focus and reminds us what is truly important.

So, where do we go from here? For me, going back to the start of the post, I’ve earned my current set of wrinkles, and hope to earn lots more. I want to earn more doing things that matter in life, things that have a Kairos impact on a Chronos world. For me, these are things like loving people, sharing the Gospel, and being all the light I can be wherever my life’s candle is placed, just to name a few. On a more selfish level, I want to have some more adventures, a bit of fun, and maybe even acquire a few more gray hairs (for my stylist to hide) by doing exciting things in incredible places with wonderful people.

What about you? Who do you see in the mirror each morning? How are your “mirror moments” lately? Our “mirror moments” are the best when we see not only who is physically looking back, but who is looking back from within. I wish you joy in your journey of discovery.

 

Competition

Are you competitive? Do you play cut-throat Scrabble, or Monopoly, or cards? Do you have a killer instinct on the softball field, the hockey rink or touch football field? Or do you race ahead even if it’s just in traffic?

I will confess to being extremely competitive. Whether I am driving, playing Yahtzee or softball, I want to get ahead, to win. I grew up in a highly competitive family. Cut-throat games of Monopoly were how my siblings and I would spend long evenings on winter vacations when our parents didn’t want us watching television. Card games and competitions to see who could toast the best marshmallows marked evenings on family camping trips, after racing one another in the lake or on hikes.

I think competition is built into us and is part of what makes us human. The drive to compete, to excel, causes people to go beyond the efforts they think they can otherwise do, to find levels of performance in themselves and inspire it in others. Competition causes people to look for new ways of doing old things, and to invent new things entirely.

I started thinking about the role of competition in our lives when a friend posted what turned out to be a humorous hoax article on FaceBook. It was from a Canadian radio program, This Is That. At the time he shared it, my friend didn’t know it was a hoax, and took it seriously, as did the rest of us. It was about a Canadian youth soccer league, who supposedly removed the ball from competitions, to ensure every child would be a winner. Here it is: This is That – Youth Soccer

Reading this story, before I knew it was a hoax, I began thinking about competition in the light of my grandchildren. The older ones are almost 8, almost 6 and just turned 4. They are even more competitive than my siblings and I were. These kids compete about everything! Living with them on a daily basis as I do, I see them compete for who can clean their rooms, who can eat dinner the fastest, who can hug their parents first and anything else they can think of at the moment! Competition is in their DNA.

When we attend a football or soccer or basketball game, the first thing we look for is the score most of the time. A game without a score would be missing a significant part of what makes it a game. When someone we love is competing, we want them to do well, to win. But without a score, there is no winning, and the competition is pointless.

In the past couple of years, there has been a movement in youth sports for children to play, but for no score to be kept officially. The reasoning behind it is all kids get a chance to have fun, and no one “feels bad” when their team loses. But short-sighted organizers failed to realize the children, lacking an official scoring system, time and again come up with an unofficial one of their own. While the wins and losses may not be publicized, the knowledge is still known to everyone. 

Competition can also teach us lessons. Not just the obvious ones of what you learn in how to win at whatever you are trying to do, but less obvious ones, too. Lessons like good sportsmanship, fair play, honorability and even the inevitable lesson of being gracious in a loss are all learned when we compete if we are careful to pay attention to them. There is a mindset to winning, and another one in losing. Consistent winners develop positive attitudes, endurance, self-discipline, and perseverance. Many learn teamwork and  the value of putting shared goals over individual ones.

Baseball great Derek Jeter once said,

If you’re going to play at all, you’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose.

Derek Jeter’s comments sum up what I’ve been saying. I don’t think it’s just him, though. Deep down, if we truly examine ourselves, we all hate to lose. Don’t we?

The Importance of a Small Thing

Have you ever broken a bone? I have a colorfully checkered orthopedic history, according to my doctors.

It started in middle school, breaking my left big toe when I was helping to set up a trampoline in gym class, and someone didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, as it were. It continued in high school, as I broke each ankle in its turn, finding woodchuck holes on cross country courses in the region. In college, I broke my tailbone ice skating and later one of my wrists on roller skates. As a young mother, I blew first one knee skiing, and the other one a few years later when my heel broke when I was dancing. I broke my other wrist tripping over my husband’s cat when he was flopped in my path and I didn’t see him in the dark. I thought I was done, but 4 years ago, I broke my hand tripping over a curb at a rest stop in the early hours of the first morning of a road trip. (By the way, that’s just the list of what I’ve broken. I’ve also sprained both ankles and both wrists as well, in other, separate accidents.)

When I saw the orthopedic surgeon after I broke my wrist tripping over the cat, he was shocked at my history. “What have you been trying to do, girl? Kill yourself??” he demanded. “No,” I chuckled. “I was trying to find out what I could do, by finding out what I couldn’t.

I say all that to sheepishly tell you I did it again. I have more broken bones to add to the list, another misadventure ending in injury. We were in Ottawa, Canada recently for the Life Leadership Masters of Leadership Convention. It was the final morning of our trip. The conference was fantastic. The time with our partners was delightful. The hotel was gorgeous and had a great hot tub. The time away from our routine was a welcome break. The Poutine (a Canadian food, made from French Fries, gravy, cheese curds and whatever add-in’s you select) was incredible. All things added together, we were having a marvelous time.

And then the phone rang with the wake up call the final morning. It was on my side of the bed. To his credit, Bob had gotten up with it every other time it rang, because of the difficulty he knew I would have with it. This time, he didn’t. Oops. I woke up and tried to reach for it, past my C-pap machine (for breathing when I sleep), past my ever-present water bottle and realized it was too far away. I tried to angle further in my sleepy state, partially unable to see due to my room darkening mask still mostly covering my eyes, and the absence of my glasses (I’m almost blind without them!). My momentum caused me to fall off the high bed. I landed mostly on my right foot, which was turned under me, and my left leg, which hit the partly open lower drawer of the night stand. In a state of intense pain, I grabbed the phone, silencing the ringing, hollering variations of, “OW!!!” I’d badly bruised my leg, and broke my right little toe and the outside edge of my right foot in the fall, both hairline fractures.

Naturally, being the stubborn and determined person I am, I didn’t go see the doctor when I got home. In fact, I didn’t go for another 10 days! It was only when the pain started waking me up at night (after I stubbed it against Bob’s cat, who was laying on the floor in the dark where I didn’t see him), that I went and got the official verdict. However, in the meantime, I started to learn some painful lessons about the importance of our little toes,  our littlest and seemingly least insignificant body parts.

For such a small part of the body, the little toe is incredibly important! When we stand or walk, it is a crucial part of us being in balance. When we drive or use a bicycle, our little toes add strength and stability to our efforts. In short, it adds its efforts to the other toes and combines to make a mighty force in our lives we almost never notice, until something like this happens.

Breaking my little toe meant I limped, which threw me off balance, causing my hips to be out of alignment, creating discomfort in my lower back. Limping also caused strain on my other leg and knee, which had to bear more weight than normal. Finding a comfortable place to put my foot so my sandal wouldn’t rub on it caused discomfort to that knee, too. In other words, breaking my little toe negatively impacted orthopedic issues from my waist down, which had not been in any discomfort prior to my injury. It also impacted my lifestyle, and what I could and could not do, and altered plans I’d had for 5 weeks of my summer. I couldn’t swim, ride my bike or play softball, as I’d planned. It meant I had to rely on others more, something I immensely dislike doing (I did mention I’m stubborn and determined, right?). In short, it messed up major sections of my life for a bit.

Human relationships can be a lot like a person with a broken toe sometimes. The Bible talks about the Christians being in relationship like a body. Paul says in Romans 12: 4 – 5 (ESV – emphasis mine):

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individual members one of another.

He also says in I Corinthians 12:12 – 27 (ESV – emphasis mine) :

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
In the past, when I have been around as these concepts were taught, I have heard people say, “I must be a little toe, then, or something else equally insignificant. I cannot see where I am making a difference.” They are operating under the belief that if they are not out on the front lines of public ministry, if no one can see their service, it must be insignificant. Or worse, they leave “ministry” up to paid pastors and church employees and perhaps elders and other leaders, thinking if it doesn’t come with a title, it must not be a ministry. Their attitude is kind of like this:
When we think like these saints, we are living under a lie! We have been cruelly deceived, sidelined in what we can do, and a vital part of the ministry of the Body is lost in our failure to serve. We are also forgetting God sees everything we do, whether public or private. He knows our service, whether we see it as small or great. He knows it all.
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song about changing this mindset, called “Do Everything.” He challenges us as Christians to live out our daily lives, performing our many tasks, as if God was watching over our shoulders at every minute of the day. And really, when you think about it (not to freak you out, or anything), He is! If we truly believe He knows and sees all, then He really does see and know every small act of service, no matter how unimportant we think it is.
There is also the matter of something called “The Butterfly Effect.” In short, it’s the impact of a small thing on larger consequences, the theory of how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in a rain forest could ultimately cause a hurricane and billions of dollars of damage somewhere else. Well, doing small things has a lasting impact we might never know about until we see God face to face! An example in my life is the choir director who saw talent in me when I was a quiet and shy kid who had joined only on a dare, who brought out in me a love of sharing my gift of song and taught me I love performing. Another was the youth leader who had compassion on me when I was a suicidal, abused teenager, who loved and counseled me back from the edge of disaster. Another is the mentor and leader who discovered my love to write and share from God’s truths hidden away in me and challenged me until I started this blog. For the most part, they don’t know the lasting impact of what their service rendered in my life, and really, neither do I.
I could go on and on! Who has impacted your life, dear reader? Who has done something, or said something, that they might have considered small or insignificant, that made a huge impact on you? Where have you impacted someone else? Please feel free to share a story and continue the discussion in the comments. Let’s thank them here, if nowhere else.
Dear Readers, be the little toe in the Body of Christ if that is what God is calling you to be. But please, dear saint, if you are the little toe or whatever body part you are, understand you are not insignificant. You are not unimportant. You are vital, you are needed and you are very much required and loved.  The pain in my life from one broken little toe has been proof enough of that!

When Life Turns Upside Down

What do you do when your life upends on itself? How do you handle a major shift (or even multiple ones), for which you likely hadn’t planned?

Much as my life is open on Twitter, Facebook and the like, there are certain things about which I am deeply private. Upheavals in my life, stresses I am enduring and tough things I am going through are things I do not share as I go through them, except with those closest to me. These are not for public consumption. If I do share them, I do so after, as a testimony.

However, Dear Readers, I’ve been grappling a lot with the questions I started this post with lately. I cannot say I have every definite answer on them. So why share such stuff now? Because as is my usual way on this blog, all I can do is share my journey and where I am in it, and hope it helps you in yours.

It all started on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the end of April. The weather was cool and the sky was cloudless. It was the kind of day that, when you woke up and looked outside and saw how gorgeous an early spring day it was, it made you happy to be alive in it. To make things better, we were attending a gathering that day with a group of our Life Leadership partners in Syracuse, NY, about a 3-hour drive from our home. It was a fun event, a reward for hard work and a time to spend relaxing with some of our favorite people.

On the interstate on the trip home, I was dozing in the front passenger seat of our minivan. I was tired from an exhausting week at work, and grateful I didn’t have to drive. My husband Bob was driving. Daughter Beth was in the middle seat, playing a game on her phone. Son-in-law Tom was in the back seat, sprawled asleep.

I woke to the rumble strip under us and saw the van speeding into the median strip on the left side of the road, heading toward scraping the guardrail. In a moment of panic, Bob yanked the wheel right, abruptly swerving us back onto the highway. Temporarily. The force of his yank caused the van to continue to careen to the right, swerving and tipping the van to the right, toward my side. I covered my face with my hands, and began to breathe the only prayer I could think of in such a moment, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

I stopped praying when the noise and movement stopped. I moved my hands from my face, shocked to be alive, and not in the Eternal presence of the One on Whom I’d called in my moments of greatest danger and need. I was upside down, pinned in place between the remains of the van’s roof, dashboard, and my seat, held firmly in place by my seatbelt, but I was alive!

I heard Bob asking everyone else if they were okay as he helped them out. I heard another voice, who I later learned was a woman who lived nearby, asking the same questions. I saw blood all over me, but quickly realized not much of it was mine. As far as I could see or feel, I just wasn’t cut that badly. I was, however, still pinned, and having a panic attack over it. The woman (who I learned was a nurse practitioner in her professional life) told everyone to let the paramedics and firefighters get me out. But I moved my arms and legs, hands and feet, and determined my spine was not damaged. I was just stuck!

Overriding her protests, Tom crawled in and released my seat belt’s buckle, freeing me and assisting me out. The woman insisted I go to one side away from the van and sit down on the grass there while we waited for the police and paramedics. Happy at being freed from my prison, I was grateful to comply.

I looked around and realized the van, which we’d just paid off a few short months before, was a total wreck. But we were all walking, talking and none of us appeared to be seriously injured! The paramedics looked at the scene, checked the cuts and road rash on Bob’s arm, and told him it was a miracle it hadn’t been torn off as we skidded upside down across the pavement and grass. My hands were cut where the smashing glass from my window and the windshield on my side cut them, but because I had put them up to pray, they took the damage, and my face did not. Beth’s shoulder was sprained where Tom had grabbed her by it and her hair as we started to flip and she was about to fly out the shattered windows and be crushed by the skidding van, saving her life. Tom’s bad back and Beth’s and my bad knees were made worse by the crash, but we walked away.

God protected us all that afternoon in so very many ways that are miraculous. In that 20-mile stretch of road, there was only one place where such an accident could have happened, and we could have skidded across 2 lanes into the grass on the roof. Everywhere else, there are guardrails, embankments, steep slopes ending in ravines and/or trees, hillsides and all the other things traveling on an interstate through hilly country involves. There was no traffic around us to hit us. The road behind us was empty when we skidded across it.

When Bob and I went to where they’d towed the van the next day to gather the remains of our belongings that hadn’t been lost or destroyed, we realized the back 1/3 of the vehicle was completely undamaged. The roof above my seat, my door and the passenger door on my side had taken the worst of the damage and had held just enough in place to save our lives, particularly mine.

God protected us even to our clothes and belongings. The only items of permanently damaged clothing were Bob’s shirt and Beth’s jacket, his with its asphalt stains and small rips, showing the force of the scraping along the pavement, and God’s protection of his left arm, and hers with its multiple rips from broken glass. And the shirt was easy to replace! Even the blood stains came out of all our clothes, including to my white turtleneck. The only items (aside from the van) lost forever were a plastic cup I’d been using and a small stuffed Tiger Beenie Baby named Stripes on the dashboard.

God protected our grandchildren. We could have brought them with us that day. Other people had, and the option was open to us. But we’d decided to leave them home with a sitter. So other than some emotional trauma because the sitter had the phone on speaker when Tom called to say we’d be late arriving and why our oldest granddaughter heard it. It took almost a week to reassure her that we’d be okay every time one of the adults walked out the door! (We now have a rule that no one answers the phone on speaker anymore!)

The paramedics and police arrived, and things moved rather quickly after that. They bandaged Bob and mopped up the rest of us. Tom initially objected to being transported to the hospital, but relented when our friends (who were following some miles after and would bring us home later) informed him they were not stopping to pick him up! (It was a good thing they did. His concussion needed further treatment the next day.) They brought us to the hospital, and we went through an evening of the usual Emergency Room “hurry up and wait” that non-life-threatening injuries have to endure. We didn’t mind. After rounds of tests, multiple bandages both large (Bob’s arm) and small (my hands), volumes of paperwork and what seemed like a million questions from marveling hospital employees, we were finally allowed to leave. We went to the nearest fast food drive-through, got food for all of us and our dear friends who’d waited so patiently for us and who we’d scared so badly (and who were bringing us home!), and went home.

We had minor concussions (everyone), several large cuts (Bob), multiple smaller cuts (mostly mine), 1 strained knee (Beth), 2 bruised knees (mine), 1 road rash (Bob), 2 bad backs made worse by the crash (mine and Tom’s, his being the worst) and multiple bruises (everyone, but mostly me because of hanging in the seat belt). In the hours and days to come, we also discovered a bit of post-traumatic stress as well among all of us. And we are alive.

Yes, I know, I keep repeating that. It’s the first lesson I learned from this. When your whole world turns (literally, in my case) upside down, find something or some things large or small to be grateful about. In a near-death episode, alive is a good place to start! We are also grateful for the other miracles, saving Bob’s arm and my face, the preservation of our belongings, the timing and location of the crash. We are grateful for our friends who came to us at the hospital, and who called our Life Leadership leaders and let them know, so they could pray. We are grateful for the prayers of our church family when they found out. We are grateful so little was injured, and that most are already healed and restored. We are even grateful for our insurance company, who was so quick with settlements and whose paperwork processes were so simple to navigate.

I took the next day off from work, to deal with the remnants of my concussion, get the stuff from the van and recover somewhat. We spent a lot of time over the next week with one another and our grandchildren, reassuring the children we were okay, and that we return home again whenever we left the house. Family time was more important to us than it ever had been over those days. When your whole world turns upside down, you get a chance to assess and perhaps even reassess your priorities. The traditional North American priorities of money and stuff can seem rather pointless when your paradigms get shifted so radically. We got a chance to affirm our faith and our family, from our immediate to our extended members, are some of the highest priorities in our lives.

Our lives have changed since the accident. Because Bob’s inattention (which caused us to go off the road to the left in the first place) was likely caused by a medical issue that had been previously unknown, Bob went the following week to his cardiologist, who is now doing tests and may send him to a neurologist for more tests. Until he gets a firm diagnosis and treatment, Bob is not allowed to drive. That leaves all the driving to Tom, Beth and me, and we’re now down one car. It makes life more inconvenient for everyone. In the inconvenience is the second lesson I’ve learned from this. When your whole world turns upside down, tolerance, patience and striving for excellence is required of those of us who live a life in service to others. You don’t have to fall into the trap of perfectionism when more weight falls on your shoulders than you are used to carrying. Perfect isn’t demanded. Your best is required.

There’s another lesson in Bob’s medical tests and current inability to drive.  These add uncertainty we didn’t have along with their inconvenience, creating a “new normal.” I grieved for our old “normal,” expressing my fears to my best friend (the same one who came for us that night). She reminded me fear is not from God, Who promises differently:

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.

Isaiah 26:3

When your whole world turns upside down, living with uncertainty is almost always a sure thing. Being uncertain is normal. Having a transition to a “new normal” and understanding grieving for what used to be “normal” is acceptable. Dwelling in it is fruitless. I tried that for a few days. It got me nowhere. It was only when I accepted the uncertainty as being part of the “new normal” and accepted it as “normal now” that I began to find peace in my situation.

We also grieved. When Bob and I went to get our stuff from the van the next day, as we left, I looked at it and silently said, “You were good to us. You did not deserve the death we gave you, but I thank you for it, that in your death our lives were saved.” Yes, it was just a thing. But saying goodbye to a vehicle in a culture that depends on and almost worships transportation can be emotional in such circumstances.   We remembered what was, and thought a lot about what could have been. In the end, with counsel from friends, we chose to set the event as a time of what did happen, instead of what didn’t. In Joshua 4:6 – 7, God commanded the people crossing the Jordan River to take up stones from the bottom and set them as a memorial to His power for stopping the river in flood so they could cross it on the far side. This was counsel I got from our friends: When your whole world turns upside down, the hardships of yesterday and today become the memorial stones of tomorrow. We pass that site going back and forth at least a couple of times monthly in our travels for Life Leadership. The first time was incredibly difficult for me, and I had a panic attack. On the way home, I decided to ignore it. It was on that trip we got the counsel, though I did not receive it well at the time. The second time, I took that counsel from our friends and made a memorial stone in my mind there of God’s grace and protection. On the way home, the memorial stone was there. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The memorial stones of our lives are proof to us of it.

So, where are things now? We still face the uncertainty of Bob’s tests. The insurance settlement sits in savings, awaiting the day he will (hopefully) be allowed to drive again, so we can replace the van. If the tests never allow him to drive again, we’ll eventually replace my car with it. We are living a life of uncertainty, and just grateful to God to be living it. Because when your whole world turns upside down, remembering Who is in ultimately in charge is essential. As we are learning now, He Who saved us is also He Who continues to sustain us. And when the One who sustains you has saved you from something like what we went through, trusting Him to sustains you becomes a whole lot easier to do . . . 

An Offering Of Tears In A Season Of Joy

How do you handle it when everyone around you is happy and you’re not? How do you cope during a time when the rest of the world celebrates, and you often want to cry?

I found myself in that place last year in the spring after my mother died. She died a month before Easter, two months before Mother’s Day and the birth of my 4th grandchild (her 11th great grandchild). The world was celebrating these holidays, and my heart was trying to find joy in them while grieving my loss. The paradoxes of the situation and the need to pay attention to the demands of the situations caused me to push my grief aside and not deal with it. It was only recently, when hit with another unhappy life event in yet another joyful time, that I finally began to process the griefs properly.

I wondered about this when I was listening to a sermon about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here was this young woman, a teenager really if you look at the culture of the time (perhaps as young as 14), engaged to be married to a (likely older) man. In our culture, it’s often the happiest time of a young woman’s life, and even in her arranged marriage culture, it likely was for her, too. She likely knew Joseph and knew her parents wouldn’t have picked out someone inappropriate for her. They might even have been friends or acquaintances, with the slight possibility they already loved one another. The wedding is being planned, the guests invited, the preparations made, the household goods for their new home arranged and everything is all new and exciting for her. It’s a time of great joy for Mary, Joseph and their families.

In Luke 1: 26 – 38, into the scene enters the angel, speaking to Mary, telling her of the coming Savior. The angel says she is the chosen one, the virgin spoken of by Isaiah the prophet so many centuries prior,

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

This news was as startling and upsetting as it was joyful. The Jews had been waiting centuries for their promised Messiah, yearning and hoping. But no one expected the Messiah to come as a baby, to be born to a young woman who would be viewed as an unwed mother, who could be quite literally stoned to death for her perceived crime of becoming pregnant without benefit of marriage. They never expected Him to arrive at that place in Nazareth, or that poor and insignificant family instead of to a wealthy or influential one. 

In what should have been her season of joy, Mary had good reasons for tears! But she kept things to herself, and went to her cousin, whom the angel had said was pregnant in her old age. And when Mary found Elizabeth, everything changed.

In Luke 1: 39 – 45, we read how Elizabeth encouraged Mary. Even John the Baptist, who Elizabeth was pregnant with, leaped in her womb at the very voice of the one pregnant with the Messiah. Elizabeth’s response was just what Mary needed to hear. In Luke 1: 46 – 55, we read Mary’s lovely response in the antiphonic poem called the Magnificat.

Mary’s praise glorifies God. Through her fears, in spite of her tears, Mary chooses to see the greatness of God instead of the smallness and harshness of her situation. She deliberately chooses to be joyful, not just happy, but to downright rejoice and celebrate over God and His love for her. Mary’s poem is called the Magnificat because she magnifies God, and makes Him larger in her eyes than the problems she also sees before her.

Sometimes, like Mary, we find ourselves grieving when the rest of the world is rejoicing. As I write this, it’s less than a week before Christmas 2015. I have friends who are dealing with some tough, stressful and unhappy situations in their lives right now. While the rest of the world celebrates, they feel like the only offering they have to bring is that of their tears.

And you know what? If the only offering you have to bring is tears, it’s okay. God knows we walk through valleys sometimes. In fact, He walks through them with us! In Psalm 23, David wrote,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23: 4

The rod of a shepherd is meant for their protection. The shepherd defends them from enemies using it, and also uses it to count them and make sure they are all healthy. The shepherd’s staff is used for guiding the sheep into positions of intimacy, either with each other or himself. Thus, to be comforted by God’s rod and staff is to fall under His protection and to be brought by Him into a place of great intimacy with both Him and others of His choosing. This is a place of great comfort indeed when we walk through valleys!

Another thing to remember as we walk through valleys is that hurting people often hurt people. It’s a great temptation when we’re wounded to strike out, so we can protect ourselves and not be hurt more. But the more we lean into God, the greater we seek the protection of His rod and the comfort of His staff, the smaller the temptations become to use our own pain as an excuse to hurt others. 

As we go through our seasons of walking on mountain tops or through valleys together, it is good for us all to remember no one else is at the same point of their journey at the same time as we are, even when we travel together. May you have a blessed holiday season, and a joyful Christmas and find joy in your journey, even when your only offerings are tears.

 

Relationship Atomic Bombs

If there was one thing you could eliminate about the way people around you interact and relate, what would it be? Would you get rid of the way some people criticize others? How about when some people are rude or inconsiderate? In your mind, what is the one thing that is the worst for relationships?

In my experience, the single thing that is the most damaging, the most harmful to most relationships is gossip. It is a relationship atomic bomb, unparalleled in its incredible destructive power.

Gossip is defined as “idle talk or rumor, especially about personal or private affairs of others.” It’s sticking our noses into the business of others. It’s poking into someone’s dirt. It’s being an inquiring mind, when it’s quite possibly (and often likely) none of our business to know. And worst of all, it’s sharing what we didn’t need to know in the first place.

In the classic book The Magic of Thinking Big, author David J. Schwartz, PhD has several thoughts about gossip, calling it “thought poison.”

Thought poison is subtle, but it accomplishes “big” things. It reduces the size of our thinking by forcing us to concentrate on petty, unimportant things.

In another place, Dr. Schwartz defines gossip, writing,

Gossip is just negative conversation about people, and the victim of thought poison begins to think he enjoys it. He seems to get a form of poisoned joy from talking negatively about others, not knowing that to successful people he is becoming increasingly unlikable, and unreliable.

Regarding leadership and gossip, best-selling author, award-winning blogger and LIFE founder Orrin Woodward recently tweeted,

Never met a leader who made a habit of gossiping & I’ve never met a gossiper who made a habit of leading. #success

And best-selling author, award-winning blogger and LIFE CEO Chris Brady recently tweeted,

A person who gossips spreads poison and blames others for the fallout. #gossip #rumors #relationships

The fallout of gossip can be as broad as the number of people involved. It damages and even breaks relationships, causes multitudes of hurt feelings and untold numbers of misunderstandings.

I remember as a schoolgirl, there was some gossip about another person and myself. The rumors were I had said something about my friend that was cruel and mean. They were completely untrue! But my friend, and our group of friends, believed them. No matter how insistent my denials, how strong my protests, they didn’t believe me, and I spent the rest of my senior year of high school ostracized from my former friends. I never reconciled with them, and now cannot with some, as they have since died. Gossip caused my friendships to be shattered beyond repair forever.

Since gossip is so damaging, how do we avoid it? One rule my grandmother and mother both taught me as a girl seems appropriate here. When tempted to gossip, they taught me to ask myself, “Would I say it if that person were present?

Let’s go back to see what David J. Schwartz, PhD has to say for a personal gossip test from The Magic of Thinking Big:

  1. Do I spread rumors about other people?
  2. Do I always have good things to say about others?
  3. Do I like to hear reports of a scandal?
  4. Do I judge others only on the basis of facts?
  5. Do I encourage others to bring their rumors to me?
  6. Do I precede my conversations with, “Don’t tell anybody”?
  7. Do I keep confidential information confidential?
  8. Do I feel guilty about what I have to say concerning other people?

Dr. Schwartz follows this list with his Golden Rule of human behavior, “Go First Class.” We all have an innate knowledge of what First Class means. It’s the best of everything money can buy. In relationships, Go First Class means to be a person of trust, honor, integrity, character and class. It means to be able to answer the questions of the gossip test with a resounding “NO” because that would be against everything you believe in and practice. To Go First Class in our relationships means we are trustworthy friends, loyal and faithful.

When our friends know the relationship atomic bomb of gossip won’t be dropped on them, it gives them security in our relationships. It means our friends know they can count on us to hear deep intimacies, knowing their secrets won’t go anywhere else.

If you struggle with gossip, I urge you to take my words to heart, and apply Dr. Schwartz’s test to your conversations. Don’t forget, it’s not just a matter of not saying it. It’s also a matter of what you will accept being told. Let us walk together, speaking truthfully, in love, and without the thought poison of gossip.

 

Impossible!

What seems impossible to you? What idea or plan or dream seems so unlikely as to be almost impossible right now?

In the 1965 version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother (played by Celeste Holm) told Cinderella (played by Lesley Ann Warren) it wasn’t impossible for her to go where she most wanted, to the prince’s ball. In my favorite song from the show, the Fairy Godmother sings “Impossible.” Here are some of the words:

Impossible! For a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage! Impossible! For a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage! And four white mice could never be four white horses! Such folderoll and fildeedeees, of courses! Impossible!

 

But the world is full of zanies and fools who don’t believe in sensible rules! And won’t believe what sensible people say! And because these daft and dewy eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes . . . Impossible! Things are happening every day!!

In the musical, because Cinderella believes what the Fairy Godmother says, she goes to the ball. Because she goes to the ball, the prince sees her and falls in love with her, and she falls in love with him. They go through trials (what good story doesn’t?), and eventually celebrate their love by getting married.

Wouldn’t it be great if all our impossible dreams worked out so well (and so quickly!) as Cinderella’s? However, the story tellers had only a scant hour or two (including commercials) to tell a tale. Real life usually takes quite a bit longer, unfortunately.

According to the Fairy Godmother, what was the key to Cinderella dropping her dirty appearance and socially unacceptable status, and walking into the ball like she belonged there? It was in Cinderella’s own beliefs the world could be, and should be, a better and kinder place to her. Cinderella was a princess in her heart and soul before she was one on the outside. The Fairy Godmother just supplied the magical window dressings.

We can apply the same principles of belief Cinderella used for ourselves, if we learn how and properly use them! Now, mind you, I’m not advocating some hokey “Name It and Claim It Because You Tell God (or the Universe) You Should Have It” kind of mumbo-jumbo. I am talking about real belief, real faith and real trust that you can and should have what you earn and deserve in life.

It’s a mind-set, really. So many of us get ourselves convinced for whatever lousy reasons we don’t deserve good things in life, so we self-sabotage ourselves into not getting them. We want them, we yearn for them with all our hearts. But until we convince ourselves we’re worthwhile and worthy of them, until we believe they are possible in our lives, they won’t happen. Because until we do, all our work will be in vain, as we continually self-sabotage all our efforts.

I have been an expert at this. I see good things in life and I want to work to get them. But my underlying image of myself always told me I didn’t deserve them, so I would self-sabotage any efforts of working toward them. It hasn’t been until I’ve begun to deal with my self-image that my efforts are finally starting to bear fruit.

So, if we get our self-sabotage under control, how do we believe? Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how to believe. I only know it’s necessary, and it’s a decision.

It’s like the boy who is the main character in The Polar Express. The boy is on the train because he’s a skeptic about Santa Clause. He’d like to see before he believes. When he gets to the North Pole, he sees all the evidence around him, but cannot see Santa for the crowds of elves. He cannot hear the sleigh bells, either. Finally, he just decides to believe, saying,

Okay! Okay! Okay! I believe! I believe! I believe!

It is in that magic moment of his decision to believe that he hears the sleigh bells, and sees Santa Clause, too. His belief opens the door to a personal encounter with Santa, and a life long joy.

During the closing credits of the movie, a song sung by Josh Groban plays called Believe. Here’s the words of the chorus, in hopes you can believe, too:

Believe in what your heart is saying

Hear the melody that’s playing

There’s no time to waste

There’s so much to celebrate!

 

Believe in what you feel inside

And give your dreams the wings to fly!

You have everything you need

If you just believe!

As I write this, it’s 3 days before Christmas 2014. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

May your 2015 be filled with impossibilities, because you believe . . . 

Be Still And Know — A Not So Perfect Family Christmas

Have you ever received what seems like an impossible suggestion or request or even command? How do you deal with it?

It was late December. I’d been sick for about a month, and found out the previous Tuesday I had a sinus infection. I’d probably been sick with it most of that month, but at least now I was on antibiotics. The Friday after my diagnosis, we learned my husband, who had also been sick all month, had one, too. He was given the same antibiotics.

Being sick, however, didn’t stop the massive, out-of-control freight train that was my “To Do” list and schedule. I tried to delegate some. I asked my husband (who was home and retired while I was still working full-time) to wrap the gifts. Our son took on a majority of the cookie baking, as he had every year (whether I wanted him to or not) for the past 4 or 5 years. (I still had to do the ones for the Cookie Exchange at work, and of course I’d signed up for the most complex and painstaking monster of a project imaginable!!.) The pair of them even decorated the house and yard with lights, and put up the tree, though it stayed without ornaments for over 2 weeks. My husband helped me stuff the stockings. I asked our daughter to make our traditional Christmas dessert which her husband adores, Pumpkin Cheesecake. But I was still rushed, frazzled and quite frankly, worn out. There was just too much on that “To Do” list, too little time to do it, and I was still sick . . .

Finally, at church on the Sunday before Christmas, a friend read a Scripture that touched my heart. It spoke to my illness, my “To Do” list, my hectic schedule and my lack of joy in what is normally my favorite time of year. When I heard it, I felt like God was speaking the words to me, gently slapping me upside my head.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.” The words spoke life to my rushed, troubled heart. Sweeping aside my “To Do” list, my schedule and my self-imposed Christmas insanity, the words of Psalm 46 demanded a paradigm shift of my priorities, my schedule and my life.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to rest. Not just sleep, which my still sick body desperately needed. No, these words were calling me to true rest and peace in God. To know that perfect isn’t required, and okay is good enough. To know that the menu isn’t important, it’s who is eating the food, and making sure was Jesus our Guest, too.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to remember the Reason for the season. They reminded me again of what I’d known since childhood: Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. It’s about His life, His sacrificial offering of Himself for us so that we can have a relationship with Him and His Father. It’s not about the food, the presents, the lights and all the other trappings, no matter how good they are. Because they are the “good” of the season, while the gift of Jesus was, is and always will be God’s greatest and best.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They insisted I deal with the emotional weight I’d been avoiding, of that first Christmas without my Mom being among us after her death the previous March. I was reminded she was celebrating the holiday with Jesus, and even though it’s different without her, and always will be, that’s okay.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They reminded me I’m not in control of my life, and God is. Even when I tried to give in to the illusion and deception of being a (recovering) control freak, the words cut through my feeble efforts to direct my life and reminded me there is One who is ultimately in control. And He is in control not just of my life, but of situations and circumstances beyond my comprehension, even reaching to the far-flung galaxies of the universe. The words reminded me I can trust the One who spun it all into existence, and holds it together by His will.

That last reminder was very helpful 2 days later (and 2 days before Christmas), when I got a call at work, telling me our daughter and 6 month old granddaughter had influenza, despite having gotten flu shots! (CDC says the shots don’t cover every strain, and they got one it didn’t, of course!) Our daughter and son-in-law wanted us to take the 2 older children (who were not sick), and have them stay with us from that day, through Christmas and for several days after.

“Be still and know that I am God.” These words ran through my mind repeatedly as I spoke to my husband, working out first if we could do it. Then, when we decided we could, we discussed the logistics of my work schedule and transportation needs, all now more complicated by the presence in our house of 2 girls, ages 4 and 6, for a few unexpected days.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Stuff I’d planned and we “always” do didn’t get done. Our daughter didn’t get the cheesecake baked before she got sick. Since small granddaughters prefer Christmas cookies to cheesecake, we were okay with that. My husband and son decorated the tree with the help of 2 small girls. As long as my delicate, breakable ornaments were put high by one of the men, I didn’t care what it looked like.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  The 4 year old and I started having coughing fits on Christmas Eve. I suspected exposure to my daughter (for me, prior to her showing symptoms on Sunday) was the culprit. Instead of the “perfect” family Christmas, we had one that was a different and not so perfect kind of family Christmas. We were missing Mom, and almost 1/2 of us were ill. But in its own way, it was perfect, because those ancient words prompted me to remember Christmas is perfect when we are with people we love and we have invited God and His presence and peace to be in our midst.

“Be still and know that I am God.” I pray your holiday season will be filled with the gentle stillness of God’s loving presence and at least some of the people you love.

Merry Christmas!

When Pain Mocks The Song — Even In The Christmas Update Letter by Terri Brady

Success 201 – Delayed Gratification

In my earlier posts, I discussed the idea the secrets of success are available to all of us, and not just the fortunate few in life. I mentioned best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki and his Cash Flow book series, and the clues he shares in it. In this post, we’ll discuss clue #2, Delayed Gratification.

What is Delayed Gratification? If you ask some people, you might get a blank stare of confusion. It is unusual to find people who actually understand it today.

However, prior to the 1960’s, Delayed Gratification was common in Western culture. Previous generations understood it very well. Credit was almost unknown to them. Purchases were made with cash or barter. Some of the only parts of society that had credit were businesses (though most operated on a cash basis) and the few who had mortgages for their homes or farms.

Today we have a credit driven culture. We often hear of young people graduating college many thousands of dollars in debt, not just in their student loans, but also because of credit cards, overspending and a failure to practice Delayed Gratification. We often hear of coworkers and relatives struggling with their finances because they got mortgages they couldn’t really afford or credit card debt due to not practicing Delayed Gratification. Some of this debt is due to life circumstances, such as job loss or catastrophic medical bills, but much more is due to a failure to practice Delayed Gratification than for other reasons.

We use Delayed Gratification when we see something we want, but don’t buy it immediately. We use the Long Term Thinking we discussed in my last post and set a goal to reach toward, understanding after we do the work to meet the goal, we can reward ourselves with the desired item.

To practice Delayed Gratification like that produces self-discipline as we do it over and over. Instead of acting on our impulses like small children, we grow into ourselves maturity and self-respect. We know we can see something we want, set goals, practice Delayed Gratification, apply some hard work and see the fruits of our rewards become manifest in our lives.

Toward this means, another purpose of Delayed Gratification is to teach us the stuff we set goals to acquire is just that, stuff. We learn the process and growth within the process is more important than the reward. By learning these things, we also learn some of the proper place in our lives of stuff, below invaluable things like relationships and undefinable things like life lessons.

I didn’t understand Delayed Gratification early in my adult life. I was a college student, paying for my needs with student loans and part-time jobs. A bit later, we got married. He’s a bit older than I am, and came equipped with credit cards, savings and cash to buy whatever we wanted and needed. A long series of financially unwise choices, including a failure to live frugally, and emergencies led to a crushing load of debt. Almost all this was debt we could have otherwise avoided, had we practiced Delayed Gratification.

It took us several years and information from our mentors and what we learned through the materials (particularly the best-selling Financial Fitness package) from LIFE Leadership to straighten out our financial mess caused by our own personal failure to practice Delayed Gratification. Now, we look at things we want, and if it’s not an immediate need we cannot live without (like necessary car repairs or medical bills), we look at our list of goals, decide where it would be appropriate on that list to reward ourselves with it, and put it on there.

Delayed Gratification is why our relatives think we’re out of touch with reality because we have smart phones but don’t use our data plan (as they do), and don’t have tablet computers (as they do). Do we have the money? Most folks have the money for something they really want, and if we looked, we could probably get a tablet. But practicing Delayed Gratification is teaching us discipline, self-denial and is an undeniable cure for the instant gratification culture in which we live today.

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Success 101 – Long Term Thinking

In my previous post, I discussed the idea the secrets of success are available to all of us, and not just the fortunate few in life. I mentioned best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki and his Cash Flow book series, and the clues he shares in it. In this post, we’ll discuss clue #1, Long Term Thinking.

What is Long Term Thinking? If you ask some people, they will suggest it means starting planning your next weekend on Monday morning. Others might start talking about the vacation they are planning for next summer.

When I was a kid, Long Term Thinking meant I was considering how long it was until summer vacation, or Christmas, or my birthday. Do you remember being a kid, and summer vacation seemed like it was 10 years long, and sometimes schooldays felt like they were each 2 days long? Many children feel that way. Unfortunately, while we all grow up, some of us don’t grow out of this way of thinking.

In his blog post Exertion, best-selling author and leadership expert Chris Brady talks about Long Term Thinking and its effects on people’s lives.

Exertion –→ over time -→ massive results

It is the concept of “over time” in which Chris Brady emphasizes the value of Long Term Thinking for us. He emphasized the “over time” factor is a critical key to success.

What does “over time” mean? In his post, Chris tells the story of football superstar Jerry Rice, considered by many to be one of the best players in the game of all time. His rise to fame was less than meteoric. He went from a unheard of high school to tiny college, to a seventh round NFL draft pick, to the San Francisco Forty-Niners, where he mastered his craft over twenty years of hard work. Jerry Rice’s story is a true study in Long Term Thinking.

In his book The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson talks about the growth of water lilies. It is another case study in Long Term Thinking. In a pond, lilies spread unseen under the surface over time until they take it over. Once the pond is taken over by the lilies, they pop up seemingly miraculously overnight, blooms and lily pads covering the surface with beauty.

In his book Good To Great. author Jim Collins discusses what makes people successful. He studied people from many walks of life, and discovered they all had one thing in common. Each one of these people used Long Term Thinking and practiced whatever the thing that was their passion no less than 10,000 hours each to obtain the mastery levels the world pays great prices to see.

In our microwave culture, Long Term Thinking is often a foreign concept. Long Term Thinking is not considering about what will happen this month or this year, though that’s helpful. It’s about seeing the future you want for yourself, looking 5, 10 or more years ahead of where you are now. It’s using that picture of the future and starting to work toward it now. Long Term Thinking is what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said,

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

You can turn any castles of your dreams into reality by starting with the critical key of Long Term Thinking.

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